Last defendant in Sweeney murder trial sentenced to 32 ½ years in prison
BY BILL BRAUN World Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
1/23/13 at 7:13 AM
The man who instigated the plot to kill Tulsa businessman Neal Sweeney was the focus of the case's closing chapter Tuesday.
A Tulsa County judge sentenced former convenience store operator Mohammed Aziz to 32 1/2 years in prison plus 2 1/2 years of probation for soliciting Sweeney's murder.
The former University of Tulsa football standout was shot in the head Sept. 4, 2008, at his business, Retail Fuels Marketing, 3158 S. 108th East Ave. He died the next day.
"A tragedy comes to a close in Tulsa County," said District Attorney Tim Harris. He said the murder-for-hire was a "career case."
"We are grateful that today has finally come," said Jan Sweeney, the slain man's widow. She has attended three trials and numerous other court proceedings in the case.
The killing occurred almost 4 1/2 years ago. The first charge was filed in 2009, and three murder trials were completed in 2012.
Sweeney, 63, was shot once in the head on Sept. 4, 2008, at his business, Retail Fuels Marketing, 3158 S. 108th East Ave. The former University of Tulsa football standout wide receiver died the next day.
Retail Fuels Marketing had stopped regular delivery of fuel to Aziz's convenience stores because he was not making payments, and the resulting lack of gasoline created major financial problems for him, testimony indicated.
Aziz, a native of Pakistan, operated two stores in Tulsa and one in Collinsville.
Aziz has said he agreed to pay $10,000 to have Sweeney killed but wound up paying $11,100.
During an impact statement read in court, Jan Sweeney told Aziz that her husband "would be alive today if it weren't for you."
Aziz "decided to blame someone else" for his own failures and made installment payments to have him killed, she said.
Neal Sweeney was an "amazing" man of integrity, his wife said.
Allison Sweeney-Turner, one of Neal Sweeney's three daughters, said she is "forever honored to be his daughter."
She said that at his funeral - which Aziz attended - she pledged to her father that "we would remain "Sweeney Strong" in his honor. His family and the community rallied around this concept, and "every father should be honored like that," Sweeney-Turner said in court.
In her impact statement, she described Aziz as "pathetic."
She said her father loved his family and community and "had a genuine spirit that soared above any man I have ever known."
Defense attorney Ken Sue Doerfel said Aziz accepted responsibility a year ago, when he pleaded guilty to soliciting murder.
Aziz's family was not in court Tuesday because they feel shame over his actions, Doerfel indicated.
Aziz, 60, did not speak on his own behalf at the sentencing.
In January 2012, Aziz pleaded guilty to solicitation of murder, and prosecutors dismissed murder and conspiracy counts against him. His deal called for him to testify for the prosecution and to get a prison sentence in the 25- to 35-year range.
On Tuesday, District Judge Tom Gillert accepted the attorneys' recommendation and sentenced Aziz to 32 1/2 years in prison, to be followed by 2 1/2 years of probation.
Soliciting murder is not a crime that requires an offender to serve 85 percent of a prison term before becoming eligible for parole.
Gillert gave Aziz credit for one year in jail since his guilty plea.
Harris has previously said that "a deal with the devil" was reached during plea negotiations, but said it was necessary to pierce a conspiracy and to have a live witness - Aziz - in court after another defendant - Allen Shields - killed himself.
Harris has said the verdicts at three murder trials in the case show that this type of contract killing won't be tolerated in Tulsa County.
One jury found Alonzo "Jack" Johnson guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to two life prison terms.
Terrico Bethel, branded by police and prosecutors as the triggerman, was convicted at a trial and sentenced to life without parole for murder plus 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder.
Fred Shields Jr. was sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms - one of them without parole - upon being found guilty at his trial of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Allen Shields pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count and testified for the prosecution at a preliminary hearing after being offered a deal calling for a 10-year probation and no prison time. He died in 2011 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Part of the conspiracy to kill Neal Sweeney
Allen Shields: He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified for the prosecution after being offered a deal calling for a 10-year probation and no prison time. He was accused of facilitating payment for Sweeney's killing. He died in 2011 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Alonzo Johnson: Prosecutors say Johnson took a van from a parking lot in Muskogee after a man he knew gave him a key to the vehicle. Prosecutors say the van was used by triggerman Terrico Bethel in the crime. Johnson received two life prison sentences.
Fred Shields Jr.: The brother of Allen Shields, he was accused of recruiting and providing a handgun to Bethel that was used in the killing. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Original Print Headline: Sweeney case closed
Bill Braun 918-581-8455
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris talks after Mohammed Aziz was sentenced Tuesday. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Terrico Bethel was the hitman in the conspiracy. He shot Neal Sweeney for $5,000. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Aziz testified that he paid to have Sweeney killed. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Retail Fuels Marketing is where Sweeney was shot Sept. 4, 2008. KELLY HINES/Tulsa World